Autism touches many people yet remains little understood. Resourcing Business Partner Megan Price explains what National Grid is doing to help change that.
The experience of autism is much broader than many might think. When we were planning our effort for Autism Awareness Week, people approached us with their own experiences of living and working with someone on the autism spectrum.
Despite this, many people don’t know much about autism. For me, one statistic stands out: only 16 per cent of autistic people are in full-time paid employment.
At National Grid, we have an employee-led supported internship programme called ‘EmployAbility – Let’s work together’. Under this programme, we take on a group of interns with special educational needs and difficulties (SEND) every year. These are young people aged 17-22 who are in their last year at school or college. People with learning disabilities have one of the lowest employment rates of all people with disabilities, with only a 6.8 per cent chance of finding paid employment. We put them into the workplace for 11 months and give them three placements that mirror school terms to see what suits them best. If they click in one of these placements, we have the opportunity to offer them a permanent position.
A positive view
Although the purpose of EmployAbility is to raise aspirations and significantly improve the likelihood of a young person with learning disabilities getting a job, it has also given us a positive view of working with and managing people with autism.
Two of our colleagues in the National Grid resourcing team have Asperger syndrome, one of the conditions on the autism spectrum, so this is something we’re actively engaged in. We found that adapting our management style to understand our colleagues’ skills was a key to success. It helped us make sure the jobs they were asked to do suited them, rather than the other way around.
George, one of the team members with Asperger syndrome, came through the EmployAbility scheme. George is good with detail and following process. He’s not confident with customer services yet, but would like to improve in that area. So he’s getting the training and support to help him learn these new skills.
One of our current interns is Olivia. She’s keen to be part of our Autism Awareness event on 30 March because she’s having such a great time at National Grid. She wants the opportunity to talk to people about her experience in EmployAbility and how National Grid has raised her confidence to work in a professional place so she can interact with people she may not have known were autistic as well.
It’s surprising how many people struggle alone with autism, as the partners, parents or managers of someone on the autism spectrum, or indeed with the condition themselves. I think people have parts of the autism spectrum without noticing it, and there are so many positives and strengths that can be used in different roles if people are supported in the right way.
One of my colleagues, a manager in his 40s, has only recently been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Our message is that it doesn’t matter what your age, you can still experience the severe anxiety, confidence issues and sensory overload that are typical of autism. We just want people to know there are others to talk to who are going through the same experience, and how having the support there at National Grid has changed lives.
For further information on autism, you can visit the National Autistic Society website at www.autism.org.uk.
Mark Pickles talks about the challenges faced by young people with disabilities finding full-time work and the progress of National Grid’s pioneering ‘EmployAbility – Let’s Work Together’ programme, which tackles that very issue.